From the Classroom Up

So we had a Journal Club.

Getting on for 200 tweets from a small (but dedicated) group of Science teachers, with some tentative conclusions as Storified elsewhere. Although participants commented on the weak results from the case study – unavoidable with small groups on a single site – it certainly seemed interesting.

Could we show improved understanding, and hence achievement, by moving away from HSW skills integrated with content, and instead start KS3 by teaching these skills discretely? Enquiring minds want to know. If only there was a way to expand an interesting case study to get more reliable and/or generally applicable results. If only there was a general move towards gathering more evidence at a classroom level that could be widely shared in the profession…

“Hang on, fellas. I’ve got an idea.”


 Where We Are

An interesting case study has found a benefit from one approach (discrete teaching of Sc1 skills at the start of KS3) over another (gradually introduced over the year). A small sample was involved at one school.

What We Could Do Next

As several people pointed out, we need more data before proceeding to a full trial. The next step would be collecting information about schools which use these two approaches and how well they work. How do schools assess students’ understanding of the language and methods? A Googleform or similar would be an easy way to acquire the data without a high cost at this stage.

Trial Design

I should possibly leave this to the experts, but the whole point of this teacher-led approach is to get us involved. (Alternatively, the DfE could press release a huge study but not tell us what they’re actually investigating.) As I understand it, we’d need to

  1. Get an education researcher to co-ordinate design/timetables/data analysis.
  2. Produce standard resources to be used either all together (discrete unit) or spread through the year (integrated learning) – this could be based on CASE or similar approaches.
  3. Design outcome measure, ideally something cheap and non-intrusive.
  4. Recruit participant schools.
  5. Visit schools during trial (in both arms) to observe delivery, consider deviation from ‘ideal script’, and also raise profile of organisation/idea.
  6. This provides good ‘teacher/researcher’ links and could be used as a way to observe CSciTeach candidates perhaps, or at least accredit ‘teacher-researchers’.
  7. Collect data on outcomes for both groups. Tests need to be blinded, ideally marked externally or by computer. Workload!
  8. Data analysis – which approach gives the best results? Is this correlated with some characteristic of the schools?
  9. Share results widely, provide materials and best practice guidance based on evidence.
  10. Plan the next RCT, perhaps looking at the materials used.

Funding and Support

I’ve a few ideas, but they’re probably way off. I don’t know how much it would cost, either in terms of money or time. The EEF is focused on attainment of particular groups, so I don’t know how relevant it would be to their aims. (But their funding round closes in October.) The ASE, I suspect, would have the organisational skills but not the money. Might the Science Learning Centres have a part to play, if we consider this from the point of view of teachers developing themselves professionally while conducting research? It would also nicely complement some of the aims of YorkScience. And we shouldn’t forget the original author, Andrew Grime, although I don’t think he’s on Twitter. (We probably should have tried harder to get in touch with him before the Journal Club session, come to think of it…

I’m sure there are many other questions that could be answered in UK Science classrooms. But the question should be, which one shall we try to answer first? Instead of complaining from the sidelines, teachers should, ideally through coordinated projects and their professional associations, get involved. This seems like an ideal chance to make the most of the Evidence-Based Teaching Bandwagon and could perhaps be launched/discussed at ResearchED2013. If we want to make something of it.

Do we?


An apologetic postscript: sorry to followers of the blog who got spammy emails about a post which wasn’t there. This was because I hadn’t read the fine print on Storify about not being able to embed the material on a blog.  It’s the same Storify I link to above, now happily live at the SciTeachJC site.


5 thoughts on “From the Classroom Up”

  1. Another thoughtful post, thank you. And thank you for the mention too.

    Your to-do list to make it happen is fairly comprehensive I expect (though I am not an expert on education research). And you rightly say that it would cost money, I have no idea how much but quite a lot if people are going to be paid to develop the curriculum materials you want to trial, are going to visit some schools to see what is actually going on and to talk to some students.
    One question I have is if you found someone who would give you this chunk of money to develop and evaluate an ‘intervention’, is this the intervention you would want to spend it on? Is this the biggest issue you see that you feel you might be able ot make a difference to?

    1. Mary

      Thanks for the comment and feedback – glad to hear I’m not too far off! The funding would certainly be an issue, depending obviously on just how big a trial we needed to do. I’ve really no idea how much such things cost.

      As for priorities, I’m not suggesting this should be at the top of the list. It’s just the one which was a natural development from this week’s journal club. Hopefully subject associations and groups such as SCORE would be able to give a good idea what the biggest problem is, what has the biggest effects on understanding and attainment. Maybe a list of priorities needs to be public so we could put together potential trials?

      As I said on Twitter, at the moment we’re already doing trials. We’re just doing really bad ones, in single classrooms, with much less control of variables and absolutely no randomization. Getting bigger samples with clearer outcomes can only improve our knowledge. By definition, if the effects aren’t a big enough signal to be seen against the noise of a decent trial, then we should be worrying about something else.

  2. Unfortunately I was unable to participate in the Science Journal Club this time round because this is a very interesting issue.

    Do the curriculum materials, at least as a starting point, perhaps already exist in the form of the Learning Skills for Science work from SEP and the Gatsby Foundation? That may be something to look into. I wonder what research they themselves carried out and it would be interesting to know if there are any schools using this in either of the two teaching models (i.e. taught discretely or using the materials to influence a more distributive approach).

    I think this is quite a priority for science teachers (and not just in the UK, across Europe if the teachers at Science on Stage were anything to judge by). It is important because these skills can make or break a child’s success in our subject. And they are skills that are easily transferable to other areas of the curriculum.

  3. I understand that Grimmer’s research lacked clout based on the sample size etc…but remember this is one teacher in one school who took a step in the right direction. In my experience we (teachers) tend to make decisions because it seems like a good idea or someone new has been drafted into the department to initiate changes. At least this is a a little bit of research that teachers can relate to. We need some idea about the type of school and catchment area, ie how closely does it resemble our own school. We might decide to adopt the same intervention based on this research but now the important thing is that we need to also publish it to build up a body of evidence. I guess teachers blogging their findings from one central area so they are readily available would be good. I would love for teachers to take some control of the research so we feel part of the process. At the moment it is very much them and us.

  4. Maybe this particular question isn’t at the top of the list. But it’s relevant to everyday practice in classrooms – and it’s something that a teacher wants to test out. And as a research topic, it’s more manageable than, say, phonics.

    I think that an outbreak of research projects within schools, with teachers playing a leading role, could be really positive for teachers and teaching.

    Perhaps researchers could help by advising on how to measure outcomes i.e. which methods suit which outcomes? In this case, Ian would want to measure student’s understanding – but other trials might cover other things as well or instead, like pupil interest in science. If we’re all using the same suite of measures, then we’d be able to compare different interventions.

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